When I was fourteen or fifteen I got my parents to buy me a Sony minidisc player for my birthday. It was cool for about a month or so, I felt like I was on the cutting edge of the future. I remember taking this trip into the city to shop at the Virgin Megastore, one of the only places that actually sold music on the minidisc format. And yeah, there was a minidisc section, half a wall really, right next to the collection of LPs.
I looked through the artists, there wasn’t really anybody that I had ever heard of before. But I went there to buy minidiscs, so I settled on Pearl Jam Vitology, even though I already owned it on CD, it didn’t matter, now I could listen to it on minidisc.
This was right around the time of Napster, when I could dial-up to the Internet and hope that nobody would pick up the second phone line for the six or so hours it would take me to illegally download “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit. Multiply that process by twenty, and bam, I could make my own minidisc mixtape.
They were just like cassettes, but digital. What did that mean? I had no idea, and after a while, the whole process of taking the expensive minidisc player out of the velvet pouch it came packaged in, just so I could listen to the same twenty or so songs over and over again, it began to feel like a chore, one that I couldn’t avoid, because I had asked for this expensive piece of equipment. If I didn’t use it, if I didn’t at least put an effort into getting some sort of satisfaction out of it, then what did it say about me, about my choice in cool presents, in my vision of the future?
It’s like, if I weren’t a little kid when Nintendo’s Virtual Boy came out, I would have been one of the first suckers in line at the video game store. I guess every once in a while some new technology comes out and, even if it winds up failing, there are always going to be a few people stuck with a bunch of leftover useless pieces of hardware.
Years later, somewhere toward the end of college, I decided to swing in the opposite direction, to get into records. It started when I walked past some record shop in the city, I found a bunch of used LPs in a box and I thought, OK, this could be a pretty cool hobby. I think I might have bought Vitology again.
But this was even worse. Instead of limitations, there were way too many options in a still niche field, record collecting. I bought an old record player on eBay. Right after I made the purchase, I found an old turntable in my parents’ basement. Neither of them worked right. I tried opening them up and changing the belts. It was useless. By the time I finally got something to play, I found that if the volume was up too loud, it would cause the needle to skip and mess up the playback.
For a couple of years I had this whole setup just collecting dust in my bedroom. Eventually my parents packed everything up into boxes, who knows, maybe someday my future kids will throw them away after I’m dead.
I don’t even have all of my old CDs anymore. Everything’s online. And it’s so much better. Every once in a while I’ll read an op-ed online, something about how digital music is terrible, how we’re losing so much audio fidelity. I couldn’t care less. I don’t have time to play with manual settings or figure out how to operate all of these different mediums. It’s so much easier to click and play. And besides, all of my headphones kind of suck anyway, so I doubt that I’d be able to even tell the difference anyway.
If I ever get my hands on a time machine, well, I have a list of things I’d like to go back and stop myself from doing. And numbers thirty-seven and forty-two on that list are, “Stop myself from asking for that minidisc player,” and “Don’t walk past that record shop,” respectively.